CityPress - - News - POLOKO TAU poloko.tau@city­press.co.za

Modise* and Thabiso* nod as Ler­ato* takes them through a com­plex maths equa­tion. They all look gloomy.

“With­out any kind of guid­ance and su­per­vi­sion, we can­not be com­pletely cer­tain we’re on the right track. We could be wrong, but we don’t have any choice,” Modise says.

The three are in their fi­nal year at Di­botswa Se­condary School in Dithakong vil­lage near Ku­ru­man in the North­ern Cape. Their maths teacher lives nearby – it’s a small vil­lage – but they don’t dare walk to his house and ask for help.

“He has been threat­ened, and urged us not to come to his house to seek as­sis­tance with our stud­ies be­cause he would be at­tacked. We con­tinue to suf­fer when help is just within walk­ing dis­tance. This is very sad for us,” Ler­ato sighs.

Di­botswa is one of 54 schools in the Joe Moro­long mu­nic­i­pal­ity that has been shut down by fu­ri­ous res­i­dents.

The res­i­dents, spread across a num­ber of vil­lages, are de­mand­ing that more than 130km of criss­cross­ing gravel roads be tarred.

It’s nei­ther a new de­mand nor a new tac­tic. In 2012, schools in the area were shut down for al­most four months and un­tarred roads were one of pro­test­ers’ ma­jor com­plaints.

About 16 450 pupils haven’t been in class for two months now – 33 pri­mary schools, 13 mid­dle schools and eight high schools are closed. The de­part­ment of ed­u­ca­tion says that 469 matrics are among those los­ing out. Their cru­cial pre­lim­i­nary ex­ams are due to start in less than a month, and then come their fi­nal ex­ams in less than three months’ time.

Modise be­lieves the pro­test­ers are hold­ing schools to ran­som as a way of putting pres­sure on the govern­ment. Their only other op­tion, he says, would have been to close a clinic.

The trio says the pro­test­ers are do­ing the right thing, but it’s clear they are wor­ried. Pupils who choose to fend for them­selves by study­ing at home, alone or in groups, at­tract un­wanted at­ten­tion from their neigh­bours.

Teach­ers have re­port­edly been threat­ened with vi­o­lence if they help their pupils. Ler­ato’s mother has been told by pro­test­ers that they know study­ing is hap­pen­ing in her house – and they

I want to say to the govern­ment: ‘Please give them what they want. Give us the road so that we can get back to school’


have told her to stop the trio’s re­vi­sion ses­sions.

A high school prin­ci­pal, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity, said some of his staff were hold­ing se­cret classes. He would not say where – be­cause then those venues will be tar­geted.

“These peo­ple don’t want learn­ing to take place at all, and it would be very danger­ous if they found out that learn­ing and teach­ing was tak­ing place some­where.

“Re­mem­ber, a pupil’s house was burnt some­where in 2012 be­cause he had at­tended a study camp that was op­posed by the com­mu­nity. Some schools had struc­tures burnt for the same rea­sons,” the prin­ci­pal said.

“As part of the com­mu­nity, we fully sup­port the cause, but we think the de­ci­sion to com­pro­mise school­ing is wrong. We ex­pected our com­mu­nity, who are our [pupils’] par­ents, to think of some­thing else if they were to put pres­sure on the govern­ment to give us a bet­ter road.

“We are deal­ing here with peo­ple who do not re­ally have their chil­dren’s in­ter­ests at heart. There is no way we will be able to re­verse the dam­age and re­build these chil­dren’s fu­ture af­ter a road has been de­liv­ered.”

Those pupils who haven’t joined study groups are now work­ing on farms across the province to earn a liv­ing. Teach­ers in the vil­lages told City Press they were wor­ried many wouldn’t re­turn to school, just as hap­pened af­ter the protests in 2012.

Modise, Ler­ato and Thabiso in­tend to go back to school and fin­ish their ma­tric year. They are far an­grier with the govern­ment than they are with their neigh­bours.

“We un­der­stand prom­ises were made by govern­ment to tar the road in 2012 and now, two years later, noth­ing has hap­pened. The govern­ment must de­liver on its prom­ise and not al­low us to be kept away from school,” Thabiso said.

The North­ern Cape govern­ment said last week that ten­der pro­cesses were “un­der way” to start tar­ring por­tions of the con­tested roads. That’s too vague for the trio try­ing to wrap their heads around maths prob­lems.

“I want to say to the govern­ment: ‘Please give them what they want. Give us the road so that we can get back to school,’” Ler­ato said.

“School­ing is be­ing held to ran­som, but we don’t see the govern­ment show­ing any in­ter­est to come down to the peo­ple and show that they care. If they re­ally cared, they will make funds avail­able to help us with ex­tra lessons.”

The de­part­ment of ed­u­ca­tion says it has no money for study camps, but it’s come up with an “in­ter­ven­tion plan” that will kick in when the schools re­open.

Spokesper­son Sid­ney Stander said all schools would be ex­pected to draw up a re­cov­ery plan and that the school day would be in­creased by an hour. The de­part­ment would also start Satur­day classes, said Stander.

“There will be clus­ter meet­ings for teach­ers to guide them on cur­ricu­lum cov­er­age. In­ten­si­fied on-site sup­port will be car­ried out to mon­i­tor and sup­port teach­ers on cur­ricu­lum cov­er­age, and pro­vide pupils with study skills and ex­am­i­na­tion tips,” Stander added.

The prob­lem is, no­body knows when the schools will re­open. And Stander adds an omi­nous warn­ing: if the protests don’t end soon and classes don’t restart, the de­part­ment will be forced to dereg­is­ter matrics.

*Not their real names


ROAD TO NOWHERE Un­tarred roads that criss­cross be­tween vil­lages are at the cen­tre of a protest that has seen 54 schools in the North­ern Cape closed down

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